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Kean Quest Talent Search kicks off Feb. 6 on Richland stage

| Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, 9:01 p.m.
Gibsonia’s own international singing sensation, Jackie Evancho, presented Maura Yates (Franklin Park) with the fourth annual “Jackie Evancho Award” during the 2014 Kean Quest Talent Search Youth Finale.
Gibsonia’s own international singing sensation, Jackie Evancho, presented Maura Yates (Franklin Park) with the fourth annual “Jackie Evancho Award” during the 2014 Kean Quest Talent Search Youth Finale.

Twelve years ago, a Richland bar owner suggested staging a fundraising talent show to lure folks into the new Kean Theatre at St. Barnabas Health System's The Washington Place.

About 20 performers responded and collectively raised about $2,000 for the St. Barnabas Free Care Fund.

Last year, the talent-show-turned-contest generated $56,000 for the fund and showcased 168 contestants.

“A little talent show has grown into a huge contest,” said longtime contest organizer Debbie Panei, executive director of development for St. Barnabas Charities.

“We saw it as a good way to bring the community in, while letting the youth show us their talents,” Panei said about the event's roots.

The 2015 Kean Quest Talent Search — once known as the Kean Idol contest — will open Feb. 6 at the Kean Theatre in Richland.

New this year is a $1,000 cash prize for the winner of the adult competition.

The late Greg Maggio of the North Park Clubhouse originally suggested and helped to organize the event, which became a competition in 2005.

“We modeled it after ‘American Idol,'” said Panei, referring to the TV show.

“In 2009, Jackie (Evancho) competed and went on to “America's Got Talent,” Panei said. “That has really helped us grow our numbers. … We've had people come in from West Virginia. We've had people from Ohio. We've even had somebody who had family in this area but lived in New Jersey.”

People of all ages can enter the annual contest to win the grand prize of a recording contract with Audible Images in Ross. Contestants 18 and younger can enter a youth competition, and those 19 and older are eligible for the adult competition.

All contestants must pay a $30 registration fee and provide their own recorded backup music or accompany themselves on a musical instrument.

In addition to Evancho, the young singing sensation who took second place during the fifth season of “America's Got Talent,” illustrious alumni include Chris Jamison, a recent finalist on “The Voice,” another TV show.

Evancho twice competed and earned runner-up honors in the local competition before she went on “America's Got Talent” and became a touring international star.

If she's in the Pittsburgh area this spring, Evancho might present the fifth annual Jackie Evancho Award at 7 p.m. April 10 during the 2015 Kean Quest Talent Search, Panei said. The award honors perseverance in a contestant.

Evancho first performed in the 2008 competition.

“Kean Idol was Jackie's first public performance, and any time a singer steps up in front of an audience, the experience is a valuable one,” said Mike Evancho, Jackie's father.

“With Kean Idol being a judged competition, the pressure to perform well is even greater and really lets a contestant know if they can handle the pressure of overcoming their nerves to perform at the best of their ability.”

The 2015 Kean Quest Talent Search will open at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 with preliminary competition for singers ages 19 and older. Preliminary rounds for singers ages 18 and younger will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 15 and 22, 2 p.m. March 1 and 8, and 2 and 6:30 p.m. March 15.

Semifinalists ages 18 and younger will compete at 2 and 6 p.m. March 22.

The championship round of competition for adults is set for 7 p.m. March 27. The championship round for youths — and presentation of the Jackie Evancho Award — is set for 7 p.m. April 10.

Admission is $10 at the door for spectators. All proceeds benefit the St. Barnabas Free Care Fund.

People may register for the 2015 Kean Quest Talent Search online at

The Kean Theatre is at 5847 Meridian Road, Richland. For more information, call 724-625-3770.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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